Relocating server will not end presidential electoral disputes

Kenyan Police stand guard at Bomas National Tallying Centre on August, 11,2017, ahead of IEBC's announcement of Kenya's president. [John Muchucha]

Emerging discussions surrounding the location of the server that houses presidential election data is a curious one. The decision to store such critical data abroad has been criticised as a vestige of colonial mentality, suggesting a lack of sovereignty over our electoral process. The argument for relocating the server to Kenyan soil is predicated on the belief that it would simplify the adjudication of election petitions.

However, this line of reasoning is superficial considering the complexity of issues at hand. The peculiar situation where election data generated within the country is stored overseas ostensibly for security purposes raises significant concerns about the trust we have in our systems of governance.

Our recurrent presidential electoral disputes signal deep-seated issues that mere proximity to a server cannot ameliorate. Our elections have been marred by fierce contests where the true winner remains ambiguous, ultimately leaving the decision in the hands of the Judiciary rather than the electorate. This approach to determining the presidency underscores a fundamental flaw in our electoral system: The significance of each vote is overshadowed by legal and procedural contests.

The outcome of these disputes rarely hinges on the actual vote count but rather on the legal prowess of the contending parties, the interpretation of electoral conduct, and the prevailing political atmosphere influencing the court's verdict. The role of the server becomes pivotal only if the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) operates with genuine autonomy. However, the politicisation of the IEBC's formation and operations casts a long shadow over the integrity of electoral outcomes, rendering the server's location moot in the quest for electoral justice.

The influence of external and internal political manoeuvres on presidential outcomes further complicates the narrative. International pronouncements often hint at a behind-the-scenes influence on election results, suggesting that the server's physical location is inconsequential without the political will to ensure transparency and fairness.

Therefore, relocating the server to Kenya without addressing the underlying political dynamics is akin to a placebo, offering superficial comfort without tackling the root causes of electoral discontent.

Moreover, the aftermath of contested elections has historically led to calls for dialogue as a means to resolve the ensuing political turmoil. Political protest is enshrined as a constitutional right. Yet, the protests sparked by the surging cost of living, intertwined with political motives, were met with excessive force. A section of the Kenyan populace advocated for dialogue instead of street protests, citing the potential for property damage, loss of lives, and economic disruption.

The term 'dialogue' carries significant weight, denoting a method of communication where conflicting parties strive for mutual understanding, clarification of grievances, and collective efforts towards conflict resolution. It necessitates putting forth disputes and tackling their underlying issues, fostering an environment where resolutions can emerge from the depths of informed and empathetic conversation. Central to dialogue's effectiveness is the practice of empathy and active listening, enabling participants to transcend mere exchange of words, reaching a level of communication that paves the way for genuine understanding and lasting solutions.

However, the concept of dialogue has been systematically co-opted by political actors as a strategy to defuse public dissent, delay meaningful reform, and maintain the status quo. The National Dialogue and Reconciliation Committee established amidst such crises, has yet to deliver on its promise of electoral justice revisiting and reform. Similar initiatives under 'The Commission of Inquiry' managed to lower political temperatures but never addressed the root causes of political conflicts.

The shift in focus towards domesticating the server appears to be a diversion from the substantive issue of electoral integrity. This move, while symbolically potent, fails to address the foundational problems plaguing our electoral system. 

Dr Mokua is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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